Locke and Els (3)
The skies looked crystal clear with the sun emitting its radiance high up in the sky as if it was foretelling the pleasant weather of the rest of the day.
It was the vacation season for the academy and Charade took up a private request which required Lorist to go all over the place for three whole days to finally obtain the things that they needed for the mission. These items were special trapping cages that were commonly used against small magical beasts. At the moment, Lorist and Yuriy were piling the cages up on a large four-wheeled horse cart.
Yuriy was a student of the Dawn Academy and was also an assistant instructor for their horsemanship course with a Battle Force rank of Two Star Iron. Like Lorist, he worked and studied part time and frequently joined up with other mercenaries to accept low-ranked missions for some extra money.
After loading all 14 cages onto the cart and fastening them on with a long rope, Lorist went over everything they had to bring with them once more to ensure that he didn't miss anything out. Having finished all the checking, he took out a waterskin and drunk a few gulps and patiently waited for Charade to come over.
Private requests were different from normal mercenary missions as the requests were often not processed by the mercenary guilds and were negotiated personally between the requestor and the accepting party. While this allowed one to avoid paying the referral fee to the mercenary guild, it wasn't without its risks. It wasn't uncommon for occurrences like sudden mission cancellations, payment refusals or even threats of violence to avoid payment to happen. But the fee collected by mercenary guilds were often rather high, sometimes even up to 40% of the wages. If the rewards were favorable, certain mercenaries would opt to negotiate the request privately instead of having a guild act as a middleman.
"Hey, Locke my brother, what are you up to?" asked Els as he walked over, wearing a large overcoat and giving the cages on the cart and the carriage a curious look. "Oh, you're going on a mission again, aren't you?"
Lorist felt a headache welling up with Els's arrival as the other two times when he met him had caused him much suffering. During the first time they met, he had lost quite a bit of money. While Lorist admitted that he was partly at fault for that, he believed that had Els not clung to him for so long, he would've been able to return to his room earlier and might've been able to catch the thieving woman red-handed and stop her in time. Their second encounter, however, ended badly even though all Lorist did was lend Els his coat. The part that most infuriated him was the fact that he had been pummeled by normal, non-combatant civilians without being able to resist in fear that he would critically injure them by accident.
Those two encounters left a deep impression of Els being a bringer of bad luck in Lorist's heart. Lorist made a mental note to be on guard lest he get wrapped up in any more troublesome business.
Els was oblivious to how Lorist felt about him and even believed that they had already become close friends judging by the way he intimately referred to Lorist as his 'brother'. Seeing the preparations Lorist was making, he thought that he would offer some advice as his 'senior'.
"Hey, I say, Lorist, there's no point going after small magical beasts like those. As a mercenary, you should set your sights further! Haven't you thought about venturing to places like the Magical Beast Forest at the Sunset Mountains, the Doomsday Coast of the Jigda Kingdom or even the Urubaha Subterranean Caverns? While these places are much more dangerous without question, you'll get much more benefits from those places. Didn't you hear about the Unicorn Mercenary Corps who made it back from an expedition to the Magical Beast Forest? They really made a killing from that trip; all of the members earned up to 100 gold Fordes each," babbled Els, occasionally letting out drops of saliva from his mouth as he spoke.
Lorist rolled his eyes as he heard Els name one dangerous place after another, as he thought, you want an Iron ranked mercenary like me to become the dinner of those savage magical beasts!? And I bet you didn't hear the full story of the Unicorn Corps either. Of the 125 Silver-ranked people in their troupe who went into the Magical Beast Forest, only 43 returned alive a month later! The captain and vice-captain, who were Gold ranked experts, even broke down in tears at the hall of the mercenary guild like little children after making their mission report!
"How do you even have the free time to walk around like this with your position as a syndicate boss? What would you know about the matters of us mercenaries?" rebuked Lorist without holding back in the slightest.
"Heh, I bet your attitude would be different if you knew that I was in fact a mercenary myself, a Silver ranked one at that," said Els as he casually took out a Silver ranked mercenary badge and pinned it on his chest.
"Eh? Why would a syndicate boss like you need a Silver ranked mercenary badge? It's not like you would be using it," questioned Lorist.
"He got his Iron ranked badge back when he was still in the academy taking up missions from time to time. He got a Silver ranked one from the mercenary guild after he became a syndicate boss," answered Charade.
Turning his head towards Charade's direction, Lorist saw that he had returned with Terman and two horses.
Terman was a member of the Enforcement Division with a One Star Silver rank and was also one of Lorist's good friends in the academy.
Pointing at Els and turning his head towards Terman and Yuriy, Charade said, "Guys, this is Brennan Evanport. He's an alumnus of the Dawn Academy and is also your senior. He used to be my classmate in the past but he graduated early to take up the position of a syndicate boss."
"Nice to meet you, I'm Yuwen Ridest. Just call me Yuriy."
"Good day, I'm Waprey Terman."
Els nodded to the both of them and asked curiously, "Fatty, where are you guys going on this mission?"
"We're going to the Calisto Hills to exterminate some Metal-eater Rats."
Metal-eater Rats were, as their name suggested, rats whose main diet consisted of metals. With their size rivaling that of most dogs, they were classified as small magical beasts that lived in swarms in the lower levels of mines. Despite their small size, Metal-eater Rats were notorious for attacking relentlessly until their last breath once agitated. Upon encountering one of them, one should calm down and look as threatening as possible and slowly retreat to a safe distance. However, any person with a Battle Force rank of One Star Bronze could easily dispatch a lone Metal-eater Rat. However, most of the time the rats often appeared in groups and relied on their numbers to swarm their enemies.
Having taken the magical beast biology course offered by his academy, Lorist understood that lone Metal-eater Rats were far and few and would only wander off from their group during mating season. Legend says that the very first magical beast that the first human, who miraculously reawakened the long lost dormant Battle Force within his blood, had taken down was a lone Metal-eater Rat. Had he encountered a whole swarm of those critters, he would have perished undoubtedly and who knew how many more years the humans had to suffer during the dark times.
Given that the Metal-eater Rat was fed upon by many other dangerous magical beasts, they had to be eradicated immediately upon discovery because if the numbers of the rats increase, it would attract the presence of even more fearsome predators to the mines that preyed on the rats and bring further disaster to the mining operations there. One way to get rid of them was to hunt down all the Metal-eater Rat Queens so that the rest of the swarm would leave the area.
One of the more famous mining incidents that had been documented happened in one of the gold mines of the Romon Empire. As a result of not adequately managing the Metal-eater Rat crisis, two gigantic Single-horned Rock Pythons made the mines their home and caused more than 3000 deaths. In the end, the empire's government had to dispatch a team of more than 60 Gold-ranked experts who were led by a Sword Saint to handle the situation, but it was not without a price: the members of the team had suffered quite a number of casualties as well. The aftermath was that more than 40 noble houses that had been placed in charge of the mines had been severely punished and relinquished of their ranks. Following that incident, the mining operations over the whole continent was always highly alert against potential Metal-eater Rat infestations and made sure to get rid of the problem before it becomes exacerbated.
"Why aren't Steve and the others here?" asked Lorist.
"Sigh, do you know about the the nature drawing trip the second year art course students are organizing? Steve brought the Kell brothers along to serve as their guard. That's right, he thinks that going on the trip to protect some beauties is more important than going to clear an infestation out with us," said Charade with a tone of frustration. He had made so much effort to prepare the necessary equipment they would need for the mission but he had forgotten to invite enough people to join them.
Els's eyes instantly lit up. "Hey, fatty, why not I go along with you guys?"
Surprised, Charade said, "Why would you want to come along? Aren't you fine and dandy being a syndicate boss and all? There's no need for you to go venturing with us. Additionally, this is a private request, so the risk involved is much higher."
Lorist instantly objected, "Don't joke around, Charade. Mr Syndicate Boss there only wants to go to places like the Magical Beast Forest and the Doomsday Coast, there's no way he would want to exterminate some petty rats with us in some mines! He's just kidding around."
Els instantly responded in a serious tone, "I'm not joking, dude. To be honest, Charade there knows that I didn't accept the position of the syndicate boss because I wanted to. It was my boys who forced me to take up that post, I really couldn't help it. Since they're handling all the work for me, I've been rather bored recently with nothing much to do. So, I thought that it would be a great idea for me to join you guys on this expedition! How I miss the days when I ventured along my fellow schoolmates. Charade, you've known me for years, so you should be able to tell what kind of person I am. Just let me come along, I'll gladly make up for your lack of manpower! I'm sure I can protect myself well enough given my abilities."
"This..." mumbled Charade hesitantly.
"No way," said Lorist adamantly. If we let this disaster magnet join us, we might as well go laze around at home instead of having to bear the consequences!
"Fatty, you know the type of Battle Force I train in and my unique skills. I will be nothing but help for you guys at the mines," persuaded Els.
Huh? What kind of skills is he talking about? Lorist's curiosity was roused.
"Locke, why do you object to his joining us?" asked Charade.
"I..." It wasn't like Lorist could say that Els brought bad luck just because of one or two encounters. "We haven't been on missions with him before, so I'm worried about our compatibility."
Relived that he thought up a convincing excuse, Lorist wiped the sweat of his face.
"I'll definitely follow all orders," said Els.
"You promise?" Charade asked.
"Alright, welcome to the gang. I, Charade, will be the leader of this party. Go make your preparations and come back here within half an hour. This trip to the Calisto Hills will take about twenty days, you're okay with that, right?" announced Charade.
"No problem. Um, fatt- I mean, leader, I think it would be better for us to meet up at the Red Grace Inn before we leave. We often get customers who make their private requests there and maybe I could ask my uncle to check whether your client has a credible background before we set out. Maybe we might even be able to accept certain requests that can be fulfilled on our way to the mines. Just tell my uncle that I sent you there, he'll know about it the moment he sees Locke," said Els who already offered the party a substantial amount of help the moment he joined.
Charade was instantly moved. He wasn't aware that the Red Grace Inn secretly handled private requests such as these right under the noses of the mercenary guilds. Then again, it was a rather good operation to mercenaries, as accepting missions from the inn usually had much less risks since the owners wouldn't vouch for people they didn't know well enough.
"Alright then, we'll gather at the Red Grace Inn."
Even before Charade opened his mouth, the moment the owner of the inn saw Lorist and heard that they were going on a trip, he brought out a notebook that recorded the requests of many other clients and searched for some that Lorist's party could complete along the way.
Having seen the contents of the notebook, Charade noticed that most of the requests were merely simple errands and 'want-to-buys'. If these were submitted to the mercenary guilds, they would usually be taken up by Bronze or Iron ranked mercenaries. Given the fees of the guilds, there weren't that profitable and so not many mercenaries would go out of their way to work on those missions. If these requests were made at the inn, however, people would be more willing to take them up as they would earn quite a sum without paying any extra fees.
After discussing with his team, Charade decided to take up 17 side missions that would earn each of them an extra gold Forde of income. Charlando also mentioned that while the payment wasn't that high, they were quite abundant in number and he often found it hard to get trusted mercenaries who would be willing to carry them out. If the party was able to complete these without a hitch, he said that they would be welcome to come for more missions in the future.
Els later came over wearing a brand new Fire Salamander leather armor. The skin of the Fire Salamander had the peculiar quality of keeping one's body warm as well as driving insects away and was particularly suited for underground excursions. However, the price of the material was rather high and was not something that most adventurers and mercenaries could afford. On the leather armor was a badge of a Silver ranked mercenary.
Els loudly introduced his new party members to the customers of the inn as if he was afraid that they wouldn't notice that he was about to go on a mission. Lorist felt that it was weird that Els's uncle didn't mind the fact that his nephew was about to join their party and even treated all the party members to a cup of blackcurrant ale whilst wishing them luck on their mission.
Finally leaving from the city gates, Charade approached the cart on horseback and asked Els, who was in the middle of a conversation with Lorist, something, "Why does your uncle trust Locke so easily? He instantly brought the request notebook out the moment Locke showed his face."
Lorist found this part weird too as he had only met Charlando twice, with their first meeting even ending up in them fighting. Why did that old guy treat him so well?
Giving Lorist a lazy glance, Els said unenthusiastically, "That old guy says that Locke was a person of good character, given how he foolishly protected that thieving woman that one time due to his sense of justice. He also didn't resist the pummeling of the crowd of common folk the other time and would rather endure their blows than risk accidentally injuring them. My uncle said that people like that were rare and even asked me to learn from his behavior. What he didn't take note of was how I, a Silver ranked combatant, would rather run away from that mob than simply beating them down in the first place. I believe that on that front, I was behaving way more graciously than Locke was."
"Tsk..." Lorist clicked his mouth and said, "Don't forget that you were running for your life stark-naked at that time."
The gang instantly erupted in laughter.